Aug 23, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA;  New Orleans Saints helmets during the game between the New Orleans Saints and the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first half at Caesars Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Cards-Saints start time moved up due to tropical storm

The New Orleans Saints moved up the start time of Saturday’s preseason game against the visiting Arizona Cardinals with respect to Tropical Storm Ida.

The game will now begin at 1 p.m. ET, seven hours ahead of the initially scheduled start time.

The Saints said they came to that decision in order for fans to “make proper and safe preparations regarding the potential landfall of Hurricane Ida and following consultation and agreement with City of New Orleans officials, the National Weather Service, Homeland Security and the NFL.”

The National Hurricane Center expects Ida to become a hurricane by the time it reaches the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday.

Ida is expected to make landfall on Sunday, 16 years to the day that Hurricane Katrina did the same in Louisiana.

–Field Level Media

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) throws a pass during a training camp practice at the Paul Brown stadium practice facility in downtown Cincinnati on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021.Cincinnati Bengals Training Camp

Bengals hold QB Joe Burrow out of another preseason game

The Cincinnati Bengals kept quarterback Joe Burrow out of preseason action for the second straight week, even though he lobbied to play.

Cincinnati chose to keep its franchise quarterback, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2020, out of harm’s way during its Friday exhibition game against the host Washington Football Team.

Burrow also wasn’t used during last week’s preseason opener, a 19-14 Bengals win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Backups Brandon Allen and Kyle Shurmur played under center in that game for Cincinnati, and Allen started Friday’s game as well.

The Bengals also held out several other starters and contributors including defensive end Joseph Ossai and newly signed cornerback Eli Apple.

As a rookie in 2020, Burrow started 10 games for Cincinnati and threw for 2,688 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions with a 65.3 percent completion rate. The Bengals went 2-7-1 in his starts.

Burrow has his sights set on the preseason finale against the Miami Dolphins on Aug. 29.

“I’ve been lobbying. Just saying what plays I might like against Miami, third downs, first couple plays,” Burrow said. “Just throw some plays out there and put them in (the coaches’) head. I think (playing) would help; however many plays I would get, I think it would help.”

–Field Level Media

May 25, 2021; Santa Clara, CA, USA;  San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks Trey Lance (5) and Jimmy Garoppolo (10) throw the football during Organized Team Activities at San Francisco 49ers Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Trey Lance to replace Jimmy Garoppolo in preseason opener

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will start the San Francisco 49ers’ preseason opener this weekend and play one series before giving way to heralded rookie Trey Lance against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Niners coach Kyle Shanahan said Lance, the No. 3 overall pick in this year’s NFL draft, would play the remainder of the first half, barring a quick three-and-out on Saturday.

“We’re trying to start our starters for about one series,” Shanahan told KNBR on Thursday. “You hope it’s not a three and out, except on defense. On offense, you hope you can go down and score in six plays or something like that and get those guys out.

“I’m not playing every starter, but there’s some starters I want to keep out for health reasons and things like that. But most of our guys, I plan on playing, and we’ll get them out quickly. Once they’re out, I’m hoping Trey can finish out that first half. We’ll see how many plays he gets and what the situations are.”

Lance is the heir apparent to Garoppolo, who has been deemed the 49ers’ starting quarterback this season by Shanahan.

Garoppolo, 29, is 22-8 as the 49ers’ starter in the regular season, but injuries — a torn ACL, a sprained throwing shoulder and two high ankle sprains — have limited the quarterback. Acquired from the New England Patriots on Oct. 31, 2017, for a 2018 second-round draft pick, Garoppolo started just 25 games over the past three seasons as is entering the fourth year of a five-year, $137.5 million contract.

In 31 games (30 starts) in San Francisco, Garoppolo has completed 67.5 percent (596 of 883) of his passes for 7,352 yards with 46 touchdowns and 26 interceptions.

Lance brings to the 49ers a resume that includes 19 college games at FCS program North Dakota State. All but three of those games were in 2019, when Lance threw for 2,786 yards, 28 touchdowns and zero interceptions, while running for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns. He led the Bison to a 28-20 win over James Madison in the FCS title game after the 2019 season.

The 49ers finished last season with a 6-10 record and open the 2021 season Sept. 12 at Detroit.

–Field Level Media

Jan 10, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes against the Cleveland Browns during the third quarter at Heinz Field. The Browns won 48-37. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Hall of Fame game kicks off NFL preseason Aug. 5

NFL preseason games — canceled in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic — return this summer, beginning with the Hall of Fame Game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 5.

The NFL released the preseason schedule on Thursday.

The Hall of Fame Game kicks off a slate of three games for each team, down from four in previous seasons. The extra game has been tacked on to the regular season, with each team playing 17 games instead of 16.

In another Week 1 preseason game of interest, fans will get their first glance at the revamped Jaguars, led by new coach Urban Meyer and No. 1 overall draft pick Trevor Lawrence at quarterback, when the Cleveland Browns visit Jacksonville on Aug. 14.

The preseason wraps up Aug. 29.

The Cowboys will be featured in the regular-season opener, as well, when they visit the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sept. 9.

The 2021 preseason week-by-week schedule, with all times Eastern:

WEEK 1
Thursday, Aug. 5
Pittsburgh and Dallas (Canton, Ohio), 8 p.m.

Thursday, Aug. 12
Washington at New England, 7:30 p.m.
Pittsburgh at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, Aug. 13
Tennessee at Atlanta, 7 p.m.
Buffalo at Detroit, 7 p.m.
Dallas at Arizona, 10 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 14
Miami at Chicago, 1 p.m.
Denver at Minnesota, 4 p.m.
New Orleans at Baltimore, 7 p.m.
Cleveland at Jacksonville, 7 p.m.
New York Jets at New York Giants, 7:30 p.m.
Cincinnati at Tampa Bay, 7:30 p.m.
Houston at Green Bay, 8 p.m.
Kansas City at San Francisco, 8:30 p.m.
Seattle at Las Vegas, 9 p.m.
Los Angeles Chargers at Los Angeles Rams, 10 p.m.

Sunday, Aug. 15
Carolina at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.

WEEK 2
Thursday, Aug. 19
New England at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, Aug. 20
Kansas City at Arizona, 8 p.m.
Cincinnati at Washington, 8 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 21
Buffalo at Chicago, 1 p.m.
New York Jets at Green Bay, 4:25 p.m.
Baltimore at Carolina, 7 p.m.
Atlanta at Miami, 7 p.m.
Detroit at Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m.
Tennessee at Tampa Bay, 7:30 p.m.
Houston at Dallas, 8 p.m.
Indianapolis at Minnesota, 8 p.m.
Las Vegas at Los Angeles Rams, 10 p.m.
Denver at Seattle, 10 p.m.

Sunday, Aug. 22
New York Giants at Cleveland, 1 p.m.
San Francisco at Los Angeles Chargers, 7:30 p.m.

Monday, Aug. 23
Jacksonville at New Orleans, 8 p.m.

WEEK 3
Friday, Aug. 27
Indianapolis at Detroit, 7 p.m.
Pittsburgh at Carolina, 7:30 p.m.
Philadelphia at New York Jets, 7:30 p.m.
Minnesota at Kansas City, 8 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 28
Green Bay at Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Baltimore at Washington, 6 p.m.
Chicago at Tennessee, 7 p.m.
Tampa Bay at Houston, 8 p.m.
Arizona at New Orleans, 8 p.m.
Los Angeles Rams at Denver, 9:05 p.m.
Los Angeles Chargers at Seattle, 10 p.m.

Sunday, Aug. 29
Jacksonville at Dallas, 1 p.m.
Miami at Cincinnati, 4 p.m.
Las Vegas at San Francisco, 4 p.m.
New England at New York Giants, 6 p.m.
Cleveland at Atlanta, 8 p.m.

–Field Level Media

Jan 2, 2021; Glendale, AZ, USA; Detailed view of an Oregon Ducks logo on an official football on the field during the Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

NCAA Division I lowers limit on preseason contact practices

Preseason gridiron contact will be reduced after the Division I Football Oversight Committee enacted new limits Wednesday.

The number of contact practices was cut from 21 to 18, and only nine full-pad days will be permitted.

Teams won’t be allowed to hold full-contact practices on more than two days in a row. Each practice session is limited to only 75 minutes of full contact, while a limit of two preseason scrimmages was established.

The “acclimatization period,” previously five days, will increase to seven days.

In a rule change that will apply all year, not just in the preseason, the committee banned “drills that encourage or create straight-line contact.”

The NCAA Division I Council also announced Wednesday that it plans to plans to determine its course of action on players’ name, image and likeness as part of its June 22-23 meeting. The intent is to have a new policy in place before July 1, when various state laws on the subject will take effect.

The council also added new guidelines regarding transfer waivers for those student-athletes who weren’t permitted to use the current one-time transfer exception.

The new rules will start in January 2022, issuing waivers for student-athletes to be eligible for the 2022-23 season. Applicants making a second transfer would gain immediate eligibility if they can show they have an “education-impacting disability” or a “real and imminent health and safety” threat.

Jon Steinbrecher, commissioner of the Mid-American Conference and the chair of the NCAA Division I Council’s Working Group on Transfers, said in a statement, “These guidelines provide an opportunity for student-athletes with the greatest need to transfer and compete immediately. The delayed effective date is the fairest way to accommodate student-athletes who entered the Transfer Portal with the current waiver guidelines in place.”

–Field Level Media

Feb 4, 2021; Tampa, FL, USA; NFL football commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at a press conference ahead of Super Bowl 55, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, in Tampa, Fla.  Mandatory Credit: Perry Knotts/Handout Photo via USA TODAY Sports

NFL owners approve 17-game season for 2021

NFL owners approved the expansion of the regular season to 17 games per team at a virtual league meeting on Tuesday.

This change, which begins with the 2021 season, marks the first expansion of the NFL’s schedule since it moved from 14 games to 16 in 1978.

Also on Tuesday, the NFL reduced the preseason slate from four games per team to three.

The changes had been expected since the NFL and the National Football League Players Association approved the latest collective bargaining agreement in March 2020.

“This is a monumental moment in NFL history,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. “The CBA with the players and the recently completed media agreements provide the foundation for us to enhance the quality of the NFL experience for our fans. And one of the benefits of each team playing 17 regular-season games is the ability for us to continue to grow our game around the world.”

The additional regular-season game will feature an intra-conference matchup between teams that finished in the same position in their division. The AFC teams will host this year’s games before the conferences trade off annually.

This season, the matchups will be NFC East vs. AFC East, NFC West vs. AFC North, NFC South vs. AFC South, and NFC West vs. AFC North

Below is the breakdown of each team’s 17th matchup this season:

NFC East vs. AFC East
–Washington Football Team at Buffalo Bills
–New York Giants at Miami Dolphins
–Dallas Cowboys at New England Patriots
–Philadelphia Eagles at New York Jets

NFC West vs. AFC North
–Seattle Seahawks at Pittsburgh Steelers
–Los Angeles Rams at Baltimore Ravens
–Arizona Cardinals at Cleveland Browns
–San Francisco 49ers at Cincinnati Bengals

NFC South vs. AFC South
–New Orleans Saints at Tennessee Titans
–Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Indianapolis Colts
–Carolina Panthers at Houston Texans
–Atlanta Falcons at Jacksonville Jaguars

NFC West vs. AFC North
–Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs
–Chicago Bears at Las Vegas Raiders
–Minnesota Vikings at Los Angeles Chargers
–Detroit Lions at Denver Broncos

The official 2021 schedule, with playing dates and times, will be announced later this spring.

The 2021 NFL season is scheduled to begin on Thursday, Sept. 9, and end on Sunday, Jan. 9. Super Bowl LVI is set to take place Feb. 13 at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.

–Field Level Media

Mayfield and Barkley have strong debuts in preseason opener

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Baker Mayfield and Saquon Barkley lived up to early expectations as the top two picks in the NFL draft in their first action as the Cleveland Browns beat the New York Giants 20-10 on Thursday night.

Replacing starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor late in the first quarter, Mayfield hit 11 of 20 passes for 212 yards, two touchdowns, and converted two fourth-down plays with his feet. The Heisman Trophy winner who was the No. 1 overall pick found tight end David Njoku on a 10-yard TD pass to cap a 14-play, 72-yard drive on his second series. He finished his debut with a completion on a 54-yard slant and run to fellow rookie Antonio Callaway.

Taylor, expected to be coach Hue Jackson’s starter as Mayfield learns this season, hit all five of his passes in two series, including a 36-yard touchdown pass to Njoku, a New Jersey native.

Barkley, the No. 2 pick, electrified the fans at MetLife Stadium, taking a handoff from Eli Manning on the opening play from scrimmage and turning no apparent hole into a 39-yard run down the sideline in front of the Giants’ bench. It set up a 42-yard field goal by Aldrick Rosas.

The Penn State running back finished with 43 yards on five carries.

STEELERS 31, EAGLES 14

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Landry Jones and Josh Dobbs each tossed touchdown passes and the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles rested several starters, including quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Nick Foles. Nate Sudfeld threw a pair of touchdown passes and two interceptions.

Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown sat for the Steelers and Le’Veon Bell still hasn’t signed his franchise tender.

Jones completed all four of his passes for 83 yards, including a 71-yard TD pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster in the first quarter. Smith-Schuster made a leaping catch over Rasul Douglas at the 33 and ran untouched to the end zone.

Fitzgerald Toussaint had a 3-yard TD run and a 2-point conversion, while Dobbs threw a 29-yard TD pass to Damoun Patterson.

Sudfeld threw a perfect strike for a 63-yard TD to Shelton Gibson and fired a 15-yard TD pass to rookie Dallas Goedert. He finished 10 of 14 for 140 yards.

Wentz still hasn’t been cleared for contact after having surgery to repair two torn ligaments in his left knee last December. Foles, the Super Bowl MVP, has missed a few practices with muscle spasms in his neck and shoulder.

Mason Rudolph, a third-round pick competing with Jones and Dobbs for the backup job to Roethlisberger, was 7 of 12 for 101 yards.

PANTHERS 28, BILLS 23

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Bills receiver Kelvin Benjamin’s feud with former teammate Panthers quarterback Cam Newton continued before and during Carolina’s preseason-opening win.

First, the two exchanged words on the field about 90 minutes before kickoff. Then they each played key roles in touchdowns drives in the first quarter.

Benjamin caught four passes for 59 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown reception from Nathan Peterman on Buffalo’s first possession. Newton responded on the next possession, completing 4 of 5 attempts for 67 yards as part of an 85-yard drive capped by Christian McCaffrey’s 2-yard run.

The bad blood between the two emerged last week when Benjamin criticized Newton’s accuracy and questioned why the Panthers used a first-round pick to draft Benjamin in 2014. It was the latest time Benjamin has voiced his frustrations since forcing his trade to Buffalo in October.

Before the game, a video posted by The Charlotte Observer showed Benjamin chatting with Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis when Newton approached the two and attempted to shake Benjamin’s hand. Newton waved away Davis, and then had a brief discussion with Benjamin before the receiver began walking away.

Newton followed and the two talked again. The discussion ended when Benjamin shrugged and turned to walk away, and Newton waved his hand at the receiver’s back.

Newton finished 6 of 9 for 84 yards in two series.

BENGALS 30, BEARS 27

CINCINNATI (AP) — Andy Dalton made a solid debut in Cincinnati’s revamped offense, throwing for a pair of touchdowns.

The Bengals were last in the league on offense last season, the worst finish in franchise history. They overhauled their leaky offensive line, and coordinator Bill Lazor injected more diversity into the playbook. It showed the first time out.

Dalton went 6 of 8 for 103 yards, completing four passes of at least 20 yards. He also had an interception that wasn’t his fault — John Ross fell on his route and Kyle Fuller returned the pickoff 47 yards to the end zone.

The Bears (0-2) rested most of their starters during a 17-16 loss to the Ravens in the Hall of Fame game, including quarterback Mitchell Trubisky . His preseason debut didn’t go very well.

Trubisky was in for two series that netted minus-1 yard on eight plays. The Bears’ only first down on those series came on Carlos Dunlap’s penalty for roughing the quarterback, a late hit on Trubisky. He missed on a deep sideline pass to Kevin White on his opening throw and finished 2 of 4 for 4 yards.

SAINTS 24, JAGUARS 20

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Blake Bortles completed 6 of 9 passes for 53 yards and scored on a short bootleg. Bortles was poised in the pocket and nearly perfect in one series of work, a significant improvement from the way his preseason started a year ago. Bortles had a five-interception performance during a training camp practice in 2017 and continued to struggle during joint practices with New England. He was benched two weeks into the preseason and had to earn the starting job.

A year later, his starting spot is as solid as just about anyone’s on the team. It showed against the Saints.

Bortles led the Jaguars on a 15-play, 79-yard drive to open the game. He converted both third-down passes he faced and finished off the series by going untouched around the right side.

Saints star Drew Brees got the night off, allowing backup Tom Savage to play the first half. Savage completed 10 of 14 passes for 70 yards. Brees only played in one preseason game in 2017.

Mark Ingram, suspended the first four games of the regular season for violating NFL policy on performance enhancers, carried seven times for 23 yards and a touchdown. Ingram scored against Jacksonville’s backups and after a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty kept the drive alive.

BUCCANEERS 26, DOLPHINS 24

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Buccaneers kicker Chandler Catanzaro made a 26-yard field goal with 23 seconds left to cap a 67-yard drive and give them the win.

Ryan Tannehill completed passes on the first four plays in his return from two serious injuries to his left knee, sparking a 40-yard drive that ended with a missed field goal in his only series.

Tannehill, seeing his first action since December 2016, was off-target on his final two throws and finished 4 for 6 for 32 yards.

Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston played the second quarter against Miami’s second team and led a group of reserves to 10 points on drives of 32 and 40 yards. He went 11 for 13 for 102 yards in four series.

Winston is suspended for the first three games of the regular season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

Dolphins receivers Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson and defensive end Robert Quinn protested during the anthem. Stills and Wilson kneeled behind teammates lined up standing along the sideline. Quinn stood and raised his right fist. There were no apparent protests by the Buccaneers.

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/tag/NFLfootball and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

NFC South: Preseason Grades and Analysis

ATLANTA FALCONS

Key Acquisitions: OG Brandon Fusco, WR Calvin Ridley, DT Terrell McClain, CB Justin Bethel, TE Logan Paulsen, CB Isaiah Oliver, DT Deadrin Senat

Key Losses: DT Dontari Poe, DE Adrian Clayborn, WR Taylor Gabriel, TE Levine Toilolo, DE Courtney Upshaw, FB Derrick Coleman, DT Ahtyba Rubin

Offensive regression brought the Falcons back to earth a bit last season, but it wasn’t for a lack of talent, and the roster didn’t require much of a tweak in the offseason. The Falcons slotted Fusco in as a starting guard and were able to snag Ridley at No. 26 overall in the draft. Ridley has the polish and savvy to contribute immediately, and he should be very explosive on Atlanta’s home turf.

There are a few more questions on defense, where four linemen left via free agency, including Dontari Poe and Adrian Clayborn. Atlanta added only former Redskin Terrell McClain and third-round pick Deadrin Senat at defensive tackle, which could be an issue for a group that ranked 19th in yards per carry allowed in 2017. The Falcons deserve credit for using their top two draft picks on valuable players who slid, but waiting to address their biggest need may yield some headaches.

The Falcons did a lot of their off-season work in-house — making Matt Ryan the highest-paid quarterback in league history and trying to resolve Julio Jones’ contract situation without his holdout bleeding into the regular season. Management of the Jones situation will be crucial, especially with several youngsters (left tackle Jake Matthews, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, safety Ricardo Allen) seeking extensions as they enter contract years.

Our Take: The Falcons needed less work than most teams, but it’s not clear whether they did enough at defensive tackle. — B-

 

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Key Acquisitions: DT Dontari Poe, RB C.J. Anderson, WR Torrey Smith, WR D.J. Moore, WR Jarius Wright, OG Jeremiah Sirles, S Da’Norris Searcy, CB Ross Cockrell, CB Donte Jackson, TE Ian Thomas

Key Losses: OG Andrew Norwell, DT Star Lotulelei, S Kurt Coleman, RB Jonathan Stewart, DE Charles Johnson, TE Ed Dickson, CB Daryl Worley, QB Derek Anderson, WR Russell Shepard

A big chunk of the team that reached Super Bowl 50 departed this offseason, but it’s hard to fault Carolina for the exodus. It was expected that Andrew Norwell and Star Lotulelei would leave after counterparts Trai Turner and Kawann Short, respectively, received massive contracts. Meanwhile, Kurt Coleman, Jonathan Stewart and Charles Johnson are well into the backstretch of their careers.

Jeremiah Sirles has big shoes to fill following Norwell’s departure, but the offense upgraded elsewhere, with speedster Torrey Smith and first-rounder D.J. Moore, who should add some juice to the passing game under new coordinator Norv Turner. Despite his struggles as a head coach, Turner’s track record as a coordinator is excellent, and he could make magic with Cam Newton if the two develop chemistry.

C.J. Anderson arrived after the draft for just $1.75 million over one year, and he should complement 2017 first-round pick Christian McCaffrey extremely well. Nabbing Ian Thomas in Round 4 was a nice upside bet on a possible long-term replacement for 33-year-old Greg Olsen.

Getting Dontari Poe from the rival Falcons for less annual money than Lotulelei received in Buffalo was a steal, while Da’Norris Searcy and Ross Cockrell are exactly the types of veterans that Carolina has succeeded with in its zone-heavy defensive scheme under Ron Rivera. Second-rounder Donte Jackson could see early time in the slot as well.

Our Take: The Panthers recovered nicely, but some key losses will be felt. How Newton plays in Turner’s offense will likely make or break this team. — C+

 

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Key Acquisitions: CB Patrick Robinson, LB Demario Davis, DE Marcus Davenport, S Kurt Coleman, WR Cameron Meredith, OG Jermon Bushrod, TE Ben Watson, QB Tom Savage

Key Losses: OT Zach Strief, S Kenny Vaccaro, WR Willie Snead, OG Senio Kelemete, TE Coby Fleener, S Rafael Bush, CB Delvin Breaux, LB Jonathan Freeny, QB Chase Daniel

The Saints accomplished their top priority — re-signing Drew Brees — and managed to keep him for $25 million annually. That qualifies as a bargain considering the current QB market. New Orleans then turned its attention to reinforcing and already improved defense by adding Patrick Robinson ($5 million/year) and Demario Davis ($8 million/year), though they might have bought high.

The Saints also nabbed savvy veteran Kurt Coleman to replace Kenny Vaccaro. Coleman will be a great fit in Dennis Allen’s three-safety nickel and dime packages the team also re-signed Alex Okafor (4.5 sacks in 10 games in 2017). Then came the splash in the draft, when New Orleans sent its 2019 first-rounder to Green Bay to trade up for Marcus Davenport. While Davenport is extremely talented, the move was awfully aggressive for a player most consider quite raw.

Little changed on offense, though Ryan Ramczyk will have big shoes to fill following veteran right tackle Zach Strief’s retirement. Jermon Bushrod returned to provide depth at guard in place of Senio Kelemete. The Ravens pilfered restricted free agent Willie Snead, but the Saints added an RFA wideout of their own in former Bear Cameron Meredith. They surprisingly didn’t add a young tight end, despite their top three veterans entering contract years.

Our Take: The Saints saved some money on Brees and found several upgrades. That’s impressive for an 11-5 team, although the Davenport trade must pan out. — A

 

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Key Acquisitions: DE Jason Pierre-Paul, DE Vinny Curry, C Ryan Jensen, DT Vita Vea, RB Ronald Jones, DT Beau Allen, DT Mitch Unrein, K Chandler Catanzaro, CB Carlton Davis, CB M.J. Stewart

Key Losses: RB Doug Martin, DE Robert Ayers, S T.J. Ward, DT Chris Baker, DT Clinton McDonald, C Joe Hawley, OG Kevin Pamphile, K Patrick Murray

It seems like the Bucs have often had productive offseasons that don’t translate into on-field wins, but it’s hard not to give them credit for this spring’s work. Rarely does a weak spot on the depth chart become a strength in a single offseason, but with the additions of Jason Pierre-Paul, Vinny Curry, Beau Allen, Mitch Unrein and Vita Vea make Tampa Bay’s D-line well stocked around Gerald McCoy and Noah Spence. The group may lack an elite pass rush — which was one reason to question picking Vea at No. 12 overall — but it should bother quarterbacks plenty while shutting down opposing run games. GM Jason Licht also added Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart, who could play early, to the secondary in Round 2.

With a third second-rounder (two were acquired by trading down) Licht grabbed Ronald Jones, who should immediately take the lead role after Doug Martin’s release. Ryan Jensen will help clear the way up front, though the Bucs almost certainly overpaid ($10.5 million annually, most ever for a center). But the move allows allows Ali Marpet to move back to guard. The Bucs also locked up tight end Cameron Brate to a hefty extension (six years, $41 million), meaning two tight-end sets with 2017 first-rounder O.J. Howard will be featured plenty. Tampa Bay took another swing at a kicker as well, but who knows if Chandler Catanzaro will be the answer.

Our Take: The Bucs’ roster is clearly improved, though it’s not guaranteed to lead to wins in a brutally tough division. — A-

– Field Level Media

AFC West: Preseason Grades and Analysis

DENVER BRONCOS

Key Acquisitions: QB Case Keenum, OLB Bradley Chubb, OT Jared Veldheer, S Su’a Cravens, RB Royce Freeman, CB Tramaine Brock, P Marquette King, DT Clinton McDonald, WR Courtland Sutton, WR Dae’Sean Hamilton

Key Losses: CB Aqib Talib, RB C.J. Anderson, QB Trevor Siemian, TE Virgil Green, OG Allen Barbre, RB Jamaal Charles, WR Cody Latimer, WR Bennie Fowler, OT Donald Stephenson

You can argue the Broncos should have reset and drafted a top quarterback prospect, but if you think the team’s Super Bowl window remains open, GM John Elway did an excellent job trying to maximize it.

Rather than breaking the bank for Kirk Cousins ($84 million guaranteed), the Broncos bet far less on Case Keenum ($25 million), who proved last season he can steer a team that relies on its running game and defense. Keenum’s short-term deal also buys more development time for Paxton Lynch, although the 2016 first-rounder has shown no indication of being a long-term answer.

C.J. Anderson was released and Virgil Green left in free agency, but the offense should be better at several spots. Helping protect Keenum will be Jared Veldheer, who arrived via trade to plug Denver’s gaping hole at right tackle. The draft brought three weapons who could contribute early, with Royce Freeman looking like the starting running back and Courtland Sutton and Dae’Sean Hamilton impressing during spring practices.

The defense has a void to fill after the release of cornerback Aqib Talib, which put pressure on Bradley Roby and Tramaine Brock, but the pass rush might be good enough to compensate after Bradley Chubb fell in Denver’s lap at No. 5 overall in the draft. The rest of the unit remains intact, keeping hopes of a 2015 repeat alive.

FLM Take: Denver might have regrets if Josh Rosen becomes a star in Arizona, but it’s hard to quibble with much else. — B+

 

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Key Acquisitions: WR Sammy Watkins, CB Kendall Fuller, LB Anthony Hitchens, CB David Amerson, DT Xavier Williams, DE/LB Breeland Speaks, RB Damien Williams, DT Derrick Nnadi

Key Losses: QB Alex Smith, CB Marcus Peters, LB Derrick Johnson, OG Zach Fulton, WR Albert Wilson, OLB Tamba Hali, CB Darrelle Revis, DT Bennie Logan, S Ron Parker, CB Phillip Gaines

The Chiefs made no bones about it this offseason: They are all in on 2017 first-round pick Patrick Mahomes. The team’s faith is a promising sign for the youngster, but betting so heavily on a signal-caller with one career start is risky.

Not only did Kansas City ship off Alex Smith, but it gave a monster contract (three years, $48 million) to Sammy Watkins, who has the talent to thrive in an aggressive, downfield attack but has struggled with durability and consistency throughout his career. The rest of the offense returns intact, but it’s fair to expect growing pains as Mahomes settles in as the starter.

On defense, the Chiefs turned their cornerback depth chart upside down, most prominently with the trade of Marcus Peters due to personality concerns. Kendall Fuller (part of the return for Smith) and David Amerson (signed after he was released by the Raiders) have flashed ability, but they’ll have a hard time replacing Peters, who might have been the team’s best player. The position then went unaddressed until Round 6 in the draft, although GM Brett Veach did find help for a shaky run defense in Breeland Speaks and Derrick Nnadi. That duo, along with pricey signee Anthony Hitchens (five years, $45 million), will be counted on early with Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali and Bennie Logan gone.

FLM Take: The Chiefs traded two of their best players, gave out a pair eyebrow-raising contracts and still have major holes on defense. Some decline should be expected, even if Mahomes impresses. — D+

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Key Acquisitions: C Mike Pouncey, S Derwin James, TE Virgil Green, K Caleb Sturgis, OLB/DE Uchenna Nwosu, DT Justin Jones, QB Geno Smith

Key Losses: S Tre Boston, TE Antonio Gates, OG Matt Slauson, OG Kenny Wiggins, DE Jeremiah Attaochu K Nick Novak, DE Chris McCain

Considering upheaval elsewhere in the division, the Chargers might have claimed AFC West pole position despite doing little this offseason. After missing the playoffs with a plus-83 point differential (ninth in NFL), the Bolts again tried to solve the kicking woes that have haunted them for years, signing Caleb Sturgis and taking a flier on 2016 second-rounder Roberto Aguayo. If one can be merely average, Los Angeles will be in much better shape.

The Chargers let a few offensive linemen walk in favor of 2017 draftees Forrest Lamp — returning from an ACL tear after missing his rookie campaign — and Dan Feeney. Centering those two will be three-time Pro Bowler Mike Pouncey, who joined on a reasonable deal (two years, $15 million). Toss in the signing of Virgil Green, and the team’s blocking could be excellent. Unfortunately for L.A., the injury bug already bit Hunter Henry (torn ACL), perhaps paving the way for Antonio Gates’ return.

The defense didn’t need much work, but the few moves GM Tom Telesco made were excellent, starting with a very reasonable extension (three years, $33.3 million) for stalwart corner Casey Hayward. He pounced when Derwin James slid to No. 17 in the draft, giving defensive coordinator Gus Bradley an ideal roving safety. The biggest remaining concern is a leaky run defense, putting pressure on third-rounder Justin Jones after the team failed to upgrade at linebacker this spring.

FLM Take: The Chargers’ deep and talented roster didn’t need much, but the group clearly got better. — B+

 

OAKLAND RAIDERS

Key Acquisitions: WR Jordy Nelson, WR Martavis Bryant, LB Tahir Whitehead, CB Rashaan Melvin, S Marcus Gilchrist, RB Doug Martin, OT Breno Giacomini, OT Kolton Miller, LB Derrick Johnson, DT Maurice Hurst, CB Shareece Wright, WR Ryan Switzer, DT P.J. Hall, DE Arden Key, DE Tank Carradine; DT Ahtyba Rubin, DT Frostee Rucker

Key Losses: WR Michael Crabtree, DT Denico Autry, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, LB NaVorro Bowman, CB Sean Smith, CB David Amerson, P Marquette King, K Sebastian Janikowski, OT Marshall Newhouse, CB T.J. Carrie, DT Jihad Ward

Oakland’s offseason was an absolute blur. It started with Jon Gruden’s (re)hiring — just 11 months after Jack Del Rio signed an extension — on a decade-long, $100 million deal, which led to a remarkable roster churn. With several players walking out the door, the Raiders added about two dozen from other teams, the vast majority being veterans on one-year deals worth $4 million or less.

The effects were relatively muted on offense. Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant — if he can stay on the field — might provide an upgrade over released wideout Michael Crabtree, but both had down 2017 seasons. Doug Martin is a complete wild card, and Breno Giacomini doesn’t move the needle much at right tackle.

More change came on defense, where Tahir Whitehead and Derrick Johnson were tabbed to steady a shaky linebacker group, but plenty of questions remain at cornerback. Rashaan Melvin (one year, $5.5 million) was a nice bargain, but the rest of the group is filled with questions, even if 2017 first-rounder Gareon Conley steps up. A Khalil Mack sized cloud still hangs over the defense as the star defensive end still doesn’t have a contract on the table.

The Raiders’ draft was one of the league’s strangest, as they repeatedly took boom-or-bust prospects, including athletic-but-raw types (Kolton Miller, P.J. Hill, Brandon Parker) and players with character (Arden Key, Azeem Victor) and health (Nick Nelson, Maurice Hurst) concerns. When the dust settled, the linebacker and cornerback depth charts still looked shaky.

FLM Take: Few tried harder to upgrade than Oakland, but is this team much better? Remember: Those who play with fire eventually get burned. — D